Anyone who knows me can immediately tell you that I am the furthest thing from an introvert. I love talking to people; I don’t shy away from new groups or new conversations, and I am not afraid to share my opinion. I actually talk a lot. I always have and I probably always will (much to the dismay of my family). In kindergarten, by only the second week of school, my bus driver forced me to go sit at the back of the bus because I wouldn’t ever shut up. (Yes, in kindergarten, the front of the bus was actually the cool place to sit). So when most people meet me, they’re surprised to learn that I would rather take my chances swimming with eels than I would giving a presentation in front of a classroom.
“According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.” – Jerry Seinfeld
Public Speaking. Oh the beautiful, wonderful, eloquent art that is public speaking, you know, if you are one of the few lucky souls blessed to be able to speak in front of a crowd without shaking, sweating, crying, or passing out. Unfortunately, I am not one of those lucky dozen, and while I am not exactly afraid of public speaking, I do get heavy anxiety from it is. As a sophomore in college, I have had my fair share of giving presentations and speeches all the way since elementary school, and you would think practice makes perfect, but I am nowhere near that stage. Just last week, I had to give a three-minute presentation for my ARESTY Research Group, and even though it was only in front of six people, I was so nervous from the second I woke up until the second it was over. So whether it be in front of three people or 300, giving presentations is something I still have trouble with, and if 74% of the US population actually states that public speaking is their biggest fear, I know that my anxiety is nationally shared. So I thought I would share some tips that I’ve used over the years on how to conquer public speaking, or if you’re like me and don’t think you’ll ever be able to conquer it, how to basically “fake it till you make it.”
1) Get Organized – Make sure you know your course of action for your presentation well ahead of when you need to get up and present. Whether it be preparing an outline or jotting down notes on some index cards, prepare well in advance so you’re not scavenging through your brain the day of. When you are organized, you will feel much more relaxed and calm.
2) Know your Topic – This might single-handedly be the biggest factor of what makes or breaks you during your presentation. I have learned that I am the most nervous before speaking about things I don’t feel entirely comfortable with. For instance, in high school, I had to give a presentation on a topic that I definitely did not do enough research on, and it showed when my presentation was filled with many awkward pauses and “um’s” as I racked my brain trying to figure out what to say. In contrast, I just gave a presentation on the research I am currently doing, and I was so comfortable speaking about it because I knew that topic like the back of my hand. If you focus on the material, and not the people you are speaking to, you will exude confidence and knowledge.
3) Record Yourself Speaking and/or Practice with a Friend/Family Member – My biggest problem has always been talking too fast. I am a naturally fast speaker, and when I am nervous, I sound like an auctioneer. To avoid talking too fast, I always try to record myself beforehand or practice with a friend or two so they can point out when I need to slow down.
4) Practice Practice Practice – I don’t know where the advice “imagine your audience in their underwear” developed from, because I don’t think it will help you become an effective speaker at all. What will help is continuous practice. Being able to be an effective speaker is a very important skill that will follow you throughout your life, and even though it might make you nervous now, keep taking classes or running for executive positions where you are forced to at least give one oral presentation. You’ll only get better with time, and even if you never become perfect, you will become much more confident in yourself, and confidence is key to beating your fear of public speaking.